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Tau Kappa Epsilon reports Torah scroll vandalized at on-campus house

Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor
TKE chapter president Chris Osborne said a Torah was vandalized and hot sauce was smeared over kitchen appliances, floors and walls in the chapter’s on-campus house.

Updated: Oct. 31, 2021 at 10:18 p.m.

A Torah scroll at Tau Kappa Epsilon’s on-campus house was vandalized this weekend, the fraternity and officials said Sunday.

TKE said in a statement that its on-campus house was broken into and Jewish texts were “desecrated,” adding that the chapter was cooperating with University officials and the Anti-Defamation League. University President Thomas LeBlanc condemned the vandalism Sunday night, calling it an act of antisemitism.

“I want to be clear: I condemn all such acts of antisemitism and all forms of hatred, discrimination and bias in our community,” LeBlanc said in the statement. “Any act of antisemitism is an attack on the entire GW community and cannot, and will not, be tolerated.”

LeBlanc said he was “appalled” by the incident and the GW Police Department was working with the Metropolitan Police Department to investigate the incident and find the perpetrators.

“The safety and well-being of our students and all members of our community remains our foremost priority, and the University is providing all resources necessary to the investigation and to support our community,” he said.

Chris Osborne, the president of TKE, said the Torah scroll was one of several religious texts that belongs to the chapter, which usually uses them to swear in new members of the fraternity. Osborne said other religious texts, which were all stored in the basement of TKE’s house, were left unharmed, but a bible was moved from its original place.

“Our entire chapter is outraged and saddened by this blatant act of antisemitism and violence against our brothers,” the chapter wrote in a statement.

Osborne said the vandalism occurred approximately between midnight and 2 a.m. on Sunday, and a fraternity brother found the vandalism at about 3 a.m. Hot sauce was smeared and fire alarms were ripped out of the walls, he said.

“There was hot sauce poured all over the kitchen walls, the ceiling, the fridge, the kitchen appliances, floor, etcetera,” Osborne said. “And other miscellaneous items were thrown around, there were decks of playing cards sprawled out all over the floor on the first floor.”

Osborne said he estimates about a quarter of the fraternity’s members are Jewish.

“Jewish brothers and non-Jewish brothers are just, in general, angry and upset that this would happen, that our house would be broken into,” Osborne said.

In a separate case, GWPD detective Veronica Saunders said a female student living in Hensley Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus was sent an image of a swastika last month, which is still being investigated.

Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Cissy Petty called the vandalism at TKE “horrific” in a tweet Sunday afternoon.

“I know this has frightened and hurt many in our community,” Petty wrote. “I am angry and saddened by this disgusting, self-centered act.”

GW Hillel said in a statement Sunday that the organization was “deeply concerned” and invited students to visit the Hillel building on Monday to talk through the incident.

“The Torah is the foundation of the Jewish faith, and its desecration is an antisemitic act of disrespect toward the Jewish community on campus,” the group said.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the director of Chabad GW, said he was angered by the desecration of the paper Torah, which he saw after he visited the TKE townhouse Sunday. Shemtov spoke at an event discussing antisemitism on campus last week.

“I feel that something like this deserves a lot more than routine attention,” he said. “Especially as it comes in the face of last week’s event where the president of the university himself stood on a stage and said he wouldn’t tolerate any antisemitism on this campus.”

Shemtov said it appeared the intruders purposefully targeted the Jewish text but left texts of other religions untouched.

“What I saw appalled me because it was clear that the person specifically sought out the Jewish text and left another one nearby untouched,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Washington, D.C. regional office tweeted Sunday afternoon that the organization is “appalled” by the incident and called on administrators to “apprehend” those responsible.

“We call on law enforcement and the GWU administration to swiftly identify and apprehend those responsible for this horrific act of antisemitism,” the tweet reads.

Meredith Weisel, the senior associate regional director of the D.C. office of the ADL, said students alerted the ADL of the incident today. She said the ADL will work with University and law enforcement officials to ensure they perform a “comprehensive” response to the incident and will be offering support to Jewish students.

“When an incident happens, we will work directly with law enforcement to make sure that a swift and proper investigation is handled,” she said. “We also will be supportive for the students, so we can help them navigate through this process.”

The American Jewish Committee tweeted Sunday calling for law enforcement and GW leaders to “swiftly identify and apprehend those responsible.”

“We are appalled by the vandalization of a Jewish fraternity house at @GWtweets, which included the desecration of sacred Jewish texts,” they wrote.

Jewish on Campus also tweeted about the incident Sunday, saying they were “horrified” and that the break-in and vandalism was “an attack on all Jews.”

“This hateful act of antisemitic violence must be immediately condemned and thoroughly investigated by @GWtweets administration,” they wrote.

Carly Neilson contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Zach Blackburn, Editor in Chief
Zach, a senior majoring in political communication, is the 2023-24 editor in chief of The Hatchet. He previously served as senior news editor and assistant news editor of the Metro beat. He hails from West Columbia, South Carolina.
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